In October 2005, Gertrude O’Connor, a retired special needs teacher living in Navan, was, like many other Irish people, shocked at the devastation caused by the earthquake in Kashmir, affecting parts of both Pakistan and India. As it happened, Gertrude was attending a course in spiritual direction in Manresa House and enquired from a Jesuit friend there, Fr. Fergus O’Keefe, if he knew of any way she could send a donation of €450 to the affected area, without having the money swallowed up in administration.
Fr. O’Keefe had seen an article about the earthquake in a Jesuit newsletter, which provided contact details for the Jesuit Social Institute in New Delhi. Fergus received an immediate reply from Fr Joe Xavier telling him that the Jesuits were directly supporting two villages, Parada and Chatkadi, both badly affected by the earthquake, in Indian administered Kashmir. Their immediate concern was to provide shelter for the inhabitants of 200 houses destroyed in the earthquake. For this they would need to buy 2,000 iron sheets at a total cost of 560,000 rupees. Joe and his team also wanted to replace school buildings and educational materials. Joe stated that he was also sending a team to Islamabad in Pakistan in spite of political difficulties.
Fr. Fergus O’Keefe passed this information on to Gertrude O’Connor but he also wrote to Fr John Dunne in Loyola: “Would it be worth publishing this in UPDATE (internal Jesuit newsletter) or in a final stop press EARTHQUAKE edition of LAY-JAY? I imagine it would appeal to many others”.
John Dunne took up the suggestion. Money began to trickle, then pour, in. Lay staff employed in our houses contributed. Bill Rickard, husband of the Province health delegate, Mary Rickard, noted that one hundred iron sheets required for ten houses would cost €540 in total, and he and Mary prevailed on a large number of their friends to donate that precise amount. The Irish Jesuits themselves, slow off the blocks because of the large amount donated earlier in the year to the tsunami victims, came up with €10,000 from their Mission Office. The Jesuit Community at Clongowes Wood had just received a windfall of €12,000 from the sale of surplus items and decided to throw it into the pot. A variety of donations came in from friends of the Jesuits and from Communities. The Finance Office in Loyola sent off accumulated donations of €15,253 to Joe Xavier, but within days had to send another sum of €19,920, and then a further one of €5,375. The total was now €40,548. At time of writing the money keeps coming in.
Meanwhile, in Kashmir, the situation was changing by the day. Caritas India were now also providing resources for temporary shelters, and some of the money received from Ireland could now be diverted to meet urgent medical needs. This was not difficult, as Joe Xavier was working closely with the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary in the area. The biggest single need was mobile clinics. It was becoming impossible for people to come to the sisters’ hospital in Baramulla, with no transport available, and travellers under constant threat from bandits taking advantage of the breakdown of law and order.
Thus, at time of writing, we are able to report that the temporary shelters have been completed, the mobile clinics are operating under military escort, and the remainder of the money is now being spent on medical supplies and educational materials. Much of this has been made possible through the generosity of you, the readers. On behalf of the Jesuits worldwide, and of the earthquake victims, we would like to express here our heartfelt thanks, since it would be impossible to thank all the donors personally. But a special word of thanks must go to Gertrude O’Connor, who has shown the remarkable impact of one small (or at least medium-sized) stone in the pond of human solidarity!